James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection

Sylvester and Peter Mintun
When we think about musical performances, we often picture the headliner. Elvis, Celine Dion, Leontyne Price. Equally vital, but often less memorable, is the accompanist or backup band. These performers are integral to a successful performance and have a view that's far different from the audience perspective.

Allow me to present Peter Mintun. Due to his talent playing 1920s and 1930s songs, he was recruited by John Rothermel to become the piano accompanist for the Cockettes, an experimental theater troupe. Mintun served as accompanist for the Cockettes for many of their early 1970s performances, often under the stage name Peter Arden. When the Cockettes went to New York in 1971, Mintun remained in San Francisco. His last performance with the troupe was Vice Palace in October 1972.

The Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78) contains photographs of the Cockettes, especially Sylvester and John Rothermel, flyers, show sequence sheets and some scripts for Cockettes performances. It also includes correspondence and contracts, newspaper clippings and published articles about the Cockettes, and some audiorecordings. The finding aid is available through the Online Archive of California.

Three items (a flyer, cast list, and song sheet) from Mintun's collection are on display at the de Young Museum's photo exhibition: Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Friedkin documented GLBT life in Los Angeles. In 1972 he came to San Francisco and photographed the Cockettes. One of those images is of Peter Arden (Mintun) and John Rothermel at the Palace Theater. The final result of Friedkin's work was a book, The Gay Essay. His maquette of the book is on exhibit and it's also available through Daylight Editions. The Mintun/Rothermel image appears in the book's Theater section. I'm happy to note that the Mintun collection has a print of the same image.

Sylvester outside 946 Haight St.
John Rothermel and Sylvester were both successful in pursuing solo careers outside of the Cockettes. Mintun accompanied them both. The collection includes some wonderful snapshots of Sylvester, along with flyers and advertisements for Sylvester's and Rothermel's performances.

The song sheets, performance lists, flyers, photos and contracts, all provide a back stage perspective on the shows with the Cockettes, Sylvester, and John Rothermel. Taken together, the collection also manages to give us a better glimpse of a performer who did not seek the spotlight.

The Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.